Penny Will Pull Through

During the COVID-19 lockdown, the recovery of a beloved family pet provides hope that there is light at the end of every tunnel.

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Penny the terrier
Photo: Benjamin Rempel

Life before lockdown

My terrier, Penny, went in for ligament surgery on March 9th—four days before our country was turned on its head. She spotted a squirrel stuttering along the fence in our backyard and launched her athletic frame off the back porch. She cleared the four wooden steps but landed awkwardly, coming up lame.

We monitored her that night and most of the next day. She was favouring her leg, this much was expected. But it was her muted personality which most concerned my wife. “You need to take her to the vet,” she said. She was resolute in her instruction. My “let’s-wait-and-see” tactic had been overruled.

We heard the whispers of a novel virus originating in China, but it was “way over there—nowhere close to here.” Everyone was laughing at the Corona beer memes circling the Internet, so it couldn’t be that big a deal, right? Real pandemics aren’t supposed to be funny. Besides, a relative told me there was nothing to worry about. And she went to college for dramatic arts, so she’s pretty much a medical doctor.

But the week beginning March 12th, everything we thought we knew about infectious diseases changed. It was my dad’s eyes that gave it away. He looked up from his phone as we waited for our meals from the restaurant kitchen. “The NBA just cancelled their games.” He repeated the headline again, this time slower, softer. My mind raced, trying to comprehend what this meant. And where this was headed. “But if one league closes,” I started, nervous of the answer, “won’t the others follow?”

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Penny the Terrier
Photo: Benjamin Rempel

“I glanced at my kids. Was this their 9/11?”

After surgery, Penny was picked up, woozy with a long gash across her knee. “No jumping, no stairs,” the vet instructed. “After ten days, you can begin short walks.” He provided a vial of painkillers. We were told to return in a month for a check-up.

As Penny grudgingly began her rehabilitation—complete with head cone and leaky wound—our family’s attention remained fixed elsewhere. We sat glued to the television, our mouths ajar, as Trudeau said unthinkable things such as group events and classes being cancelled, planes grounded, families quarantined and borders shut down.

I glanced at my kids. Was this their 9/11? Will they always remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when coronavirus became a very scary word?

For the next ten days, my wife and I were a distracted mess. I found a brick of cheddar cheese I had placed in the cutlery drawer. I’d sweep the living room floor but forget to clean up the piles; mounds of dirt and pet hair were strewn across the hardwood as if a gopher had snuck in and made himself right at home. Penny was lucky to get fed once during the day, never mind her typical two daily rations.

Distracted, yes, but our lives also became simpler. We didn’t rush to drama club or swim lessons or basketball practise. No one missed fighting traffic to grab our son seconds before the after-school car fines kicked in. We played board games at night. The kids helped prep dinners. Our pastor hosted a service over Zoom. And much to her delight, Penny received multiple walks a day, hobbling down the curb on three good legs. Some of the walks were shortened, however, the scowling from neighbour’s front porches forcing us inside.

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The Rempel family walks Penny
Photo: Benjamin Rempel

Light at the end of the tunnel

“We need to come to an understanding that all along we have accepted death from influenza, polio, swine flu and car crashes. And not once were flights grounded,” read a text from a friend. I understood what she was saying, except that car crashes aren’t an infectious disease and we have vaccines for the others.

A few days later, my wife picked up her phone and told her grandmother that we were doing fine. “We’re stressed and tired … money’s tight,” she said, “but others have it worse.” Her grandmother chimed in. “This too shall pass. Look for the light at the end of the tunnel.”

The next morning, I woke up and stretched. And as I brought the blind up, the sun beamed in—the start of a crisp, clear spring day. For a few moments I lived a normal existence, until the news updates buzzed my phone and I was propelled back into forced closures and an increase in presumptive cases. But this time there are other headlines as well: Wuhan to ease lockdown. Infection rates continue to fall in South Korea. Taiwan is beating the Coronavirus.

After breakfast, I harness Penny and both my kids want to come for the walk. We’re strict about social distancing, but I notice some of the neighbours are less leery today than even a week ago. A few smile in our direction. Two doors down, the husband waves from his front porch.

Penny tugs at the leash and my son looks up, his eyes wide with excitement. “Look, Daddy! Penny’s using her bad leg to balance herself.” My daughter turns and takes notice. “She’s using her leg more and more!” she says gleefully. “She’s healing! Soon she’ll be walking normally again. It will all go back to normal again.”

“Looks that way,” I say. I smile, then turn and wave back at my neighbour. “Looks that way.” Light at the end of the tunnel.

Next, find out what it’s like to have a baby during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Originally Published in Our Canada

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